Lebanon and Iraq erupt as masses demand political overthrow of their governments

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LEBANON erupted over the weekend with renewed clashes between thousands of demonstrators and security forces on Sunday following violent clashes in Beirut on Saturday resulting in 400 people being injured.

The uprising by workers and youth against the government started last October and has been developing from peaceful protests to open clashes with the government and its security forces.

This escalation was demonstrated by the slogans being chanted over the weekend, which on Sunday included, ‘Not peaceful, not peaceful’. This marked a break with the slogan ‘peaceful, peaceful’ raised by demonstrators against government austerity at the start of the protests.

Along with the government, the banks and financial institutions have been targeted by workers and youth in this ‘week of rage’.

Nearly 300 banks and ATMs were targeted in Beirut and across the country according to the police, with the commercial district of the capital becoming a focus for demonstrators demanding the overthrow both of Lebanon’s political system and for a revolution against the rule of the banks.

Lebanon is one of the most debt-ridden countries in the world – its national debt stands at over 152% of GDP and in 2016 interest payments on this colossal debt accounted for over a half of all government spending.

Last year, the Lebanese government secured pledges from 41 ‘donor’ countries to loan it over $11 billion to finance a major investment programme to revive the economy with the proviso that the state implement ‘reforms’ first, including privatisation and anti-corruption measures.

It was the start of these reforms that sparked the initial protests three months ago, when the government proposed imposing a tax on WhatsApp calls along with other austerity cuts.

Now the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is proposing that it will need to step in with an even bigger bail-out that will be paid for by the Lebanese working class.

Already the banks have responded to the crisis by restricting how much money people can withdraw, while the crisis has seen people’s salaries cut and the price of food and goods skyrocket. Many now fear their savings will be wiped out.

These controls have provoked huge anger. Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut, said: ‘To the public, the banks are the face of a business elite that has capitalised and got into bed with the political elite and made a lot of money,’ adding, ‘The banks are at the heart of this economic crisis.’

Iraq saw mass protests erupt over the same weekend, with roads in cities across the country closed down on Sunday night in support of their demand that a new government be announced by Monday.

This mass movement for an end to corrupt government started in October over mass unemployment, poor public services and government corruption and spread rapidly from the capital Baghdad to all major cities.

Despite Iraq having vast oil reserves and earning $65 billion in oil export revenue in 2018, the Iraqi government doesn’t even provide clean drinking water to the oil-rich Basra region.

This uprising, echoing that in Lebanon, is calling for the entire political system of sectarianism to be overthrown. This mass revolutionary movement is not confined to the Middle East.

Last week over half a million French workers and youth took to the streets against austerity cuts to their pensions proposed by President Macron and his government. France is gripped by the longest general strike since 1968 and over a year of the Yellow Vest uprising against Macron’s reforms to rescue French capitalism from collapse.

From Latin America, to the Middle East and Europe, workers, young people and the poor are rising up in revolution, demanding an end to a capitalist system that is collapsing under the weight of a debt mountain and determined to dump the burden of this crisis on their backs.

While the billionaire bankers, politicians and their hangers-on gather in the luxury of the Swiss resort of Davos this week, the masses of workers and youth across the world are taking to the streets demanding an end to bankrupt capitalism and for world socialist revolution.